The pattern behind self-deception: Michael Shermer on

Posted by: Matthew Trost

Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 19:01)

Watch Michael Shermer’s talk on, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 700+ TEDTalks.

Comments (5)

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  • Desiree Scorcelletti commented on Feb 7 2013

    I am uniquely unimpressed with this talk. The science he is referring to is dated, oversimplified, and paints an incomplete picture. Brain localization is becoming more and more elusive as research continues while behaviorism is sooooo 1950′s. I’m really not even sure what his driving point was… Sometimes we see things that aren’t there because our brains have developed to see patterns???? AND??? Selective evidence gathering to support our beliefs exists! Tell everyone you know!! =)

    Word to Stanis?aw Krawczyk, I agree.

    • commented on Apr 19 2014

      Mr. Shermer does not represent science. He promotes a core religion of a group which poses as if it represents science. Most scientists do not agree with Mr. Shermer’s agenda list of disdained subjects, nor do they agree that the subjects should be declared ‘pseudoscience’ before any scientific method has been conducted, and certainly not by a group promoting a religion and passing it off as science.

      And they certainly do not agree with his knee jerk conclusions and condemnations. The time is coming when clowns like this will be laughed out of academia.

      Right now, the number one watched TED Talk, thankfully is Sir Ken Robinson, who makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. Skeptics contend that we have answered 120 subject with final answers, through science.

      We have not.

      I think I have about had my fill of Mr. Shermer and dowsing rods and photos of hubcaps. I do not need propaganda, in order for me to apply critical thinking and keep a genuine creative curiosity.

      I do not need a skeptic organization to educate me with bullshit and charades. I find them to know a lot less about the world than I.

  • Stanis?aw Krawczyk commented on Jun 14 2010

    …For instance, in Aaron Antonovsky’ salutological approach to health and disease it is strongly emphasized that a sense of coherence (which includes i.a. the belief that the world is understandable and predictable) plays an important role in our wellbeing.

    Of course, this does not exclude the idea of evolutionary roots itself; however, the type I / type II explanation is somewhat dubious.

  • Stanis?aw Krawczyk commented on Jun 14 2010

    The talk is obviously interesting and well delivered. Still, I feel it has a little patternicity itself.

    Firstly, the similarity between schizophrenia and patternicity is superficial. Not all the people with schizophrenia are paranoid, although this is certainly the best known type of the disease. Apart from that, the core of schizophrenia appears to be in the disintegration of personality, not in the hyperactivity of any single brain-mind mechanism.

    More importantly, is the example with the predator not arbitrary? Let us think about a type I error that is more harmful than type II. For instance, after having eaten a few kinds of mushrooms, an animal might “think” that all other types were edible, too, including toadstools.

    Therefore, I am not sure I am convinced as far as the evolutionary basis for patternicity is concerned. Personally, I would say that patterns simply make the world look more understandable and predictable, which might be needed for human beings and animals alike.